News: No Second Chances

Members of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board Discuss the Fallout of Recent Opposition to the Current Process.

Two hours before the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board met this past Tuesday, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson stood in front of a crowd at David’s cafe in a pink guayabera. Every week the civic-minded Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club welcome guest speakers with a friendly-yet-skeptical vibe; this morning could at times be described as a rally. The commissioner had been stealing headlines as of late with his petition push to change the city charter and requiring at least 60 percent of voters to approve the transferring of city land. The Fontainebleau-financed amendment had been gaining traction as residents begin to realize that under certain unlikely, but possible, scenarios a Miami Beach Convention Center Masterplan could be approved without a public vote. Between sips of Cafe con Leche, copies of the petitions swapped hands, people asked for pens, and signatures were scribbled.

Shortly after the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board, the other side, met in the aging center’s executive conference room.

Stu Blumberg, the Chairman of the MBCC Advisory Board, did not mince words on this budding petition imitative and its champion.

“I think Commissioner Wolfson is an embarrassment to the city,” he said. “I think the actions that he has taken from the get-go on this project has been totally negative and anti convention center.”

The Fontainebleau also didn’t escape his scorn. The iconic resort has been tag-teaming the issue with Wolfson, donating $15,000 to the drive according to the Miami Herald. A spokesman for the Fontainebleau told the daily that they oppose public money going to the planned hotel in the district. As a result they had quit the local hotel association.

“I smiled this morning when I read the article,” Blumberg told the board.

He recounted how public money helped build the Lowes hotel partly as rooms for the MBCC, keeps the money-generating center going, and at the 20-year track record of growth in the hotel industry.

“Therefore making that statement is idiotic, for lack of a better term, because the only situation here is that they are against the hotel,” said Blumberg.

Blumburg was speaking for himself, as were the other members. While no one else came out so strongly against Wolfson, they all agreed on the notion that the current process is the city’s last shot at getting the upgrades right.

“We must get it done, there are no second-chances,” said Alan Lips, board member and Chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.

 Upgrading the Convention Center has failed a few times since its last spruce up in the late 80s. The notion being floated by the board is those failures have added up, and made this the last stand.

“This project has cried wolf before…I don’t think we can cry wolf one more time,” said Blumberg. “If this vote is delayed in November, if this selection delayed in June or July, I think the message is clear: the city doesn’t know what they are doing, they don’t know want, and it’s a political mess.”

Ita Moriarty of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Convention and Visitor’s Bureau estimates any delay would add another ten years to the project.

“So much was put into this effort that it would be another 10 years,” said Moriarty.

“If we loose our momentum now, your not only going to lose market share, but never ever going increase market share at this destination,” she said.

 Roger Abramson, one of the boards more vocal convention center supporter, fears politics will creep into the process. Abramson attended the Tuesday morning talk by Wolfson and warned his fellow board members that the ramifications of November’s city-wide elections would be “overwhelming.”

“Whether you like it or not, what we originally wanted to focus on, getting this convention center back in order, now is becoming a political football,” he said.

Abramson is concerned by the rise of anti-condo, and anti-retail sentiment rising within some pockets of the community. As the potential master plan Portman CMC and South Beach ACE will present in a referendum is currently an all or none proposition, he fears opposition to one aspect of the plan will derail all of it.

While Blumberg speculated some entities in Lincoln Road were opposed to the idea of competition arising from new retail locations in the MBCC district, he warned the board not to be marred in the potential politics.

“I think the worst thing that can happen is we get involved with political races,” he said. “Once you get involved in that, your a dead man. “

Still he recognized the possible finality of losing in a November vote: “Chances are there is no 2nd 3rd or 4th bite at the apple.”

Blumberg had only one word for the idea of the city upgrading the MBCC itself after losing at the polls: Suicide. He repeated it for good measure, “suicide.”

The board seemed to agree that educating the city on the real issue of the matter, upgrading the convention center, would be the way to combat the forces that aim to derail the project.

The board is confident the majority of the people want to see the upgrades go through. That confidence comes with a past performance to back it up. This board was the one that spearheaded a 1% tax increase referendum that was overwhelmingly approved in a slow economy. The hope is that coalition of the hotel industry will come back. And soon.

“If the forces that are out there don’t want it to happen,” said Blumberg. “Then the clearly those that want it to happen, best be prepared to dig your heels in and go to war. This is too important to this community”

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